As the Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC) celebrates 25 years at Gonzaga University, the center reflects on all its accomplishments and looks forward to further progress over the coming years.
In honor of the milestone, UMEC will host a few events this year. On Sept. 9, from 4 - 6 p.m., the Diversity, Inclusion, Community and Equity (DICE) Block Party will kick off the festivities. Taking place on both Foley Lawn and the Rosauer Courtyard, there will be food trucks, games, raffles, music and other activities that Zags can participate in.
Next will be an alumni event in collaboration with alumni relations starting Oct. 13. Julian Aguon, a 2004 graduate of GU who is now a climate lawyer in Guam, will give a keynote speech and have lunch with students. There will also be the Alumni of Color and Student Connections social, which will include a panel of three alumni discussing their experiences and the importance of having a multicultural center.
“Throughout the year we do have some fundraising opportunities to raise money for not just our center, but our programs that we offer here,” said Alfonso Amanecer, the program manager for mentoring who is the UMEC 25th anniversary chair. “Specifically BRIDGE, the dialogue programs and other social justice programming. It's a lot happening and I'm excited.”
Come spring will be the annual Diversity Monologues event on March 28. Students will have the opportunity to perform monologues and share their story that aligns with this year’s theme: “Unity Here and Now.”
To wrap up the year of festivities, there will be a UMEC 25th anniversary gala. The dinner will be hosted in the third floor ballroom of the John J. Hemmingson Center. They are also working on a mural on campus that they hope to unveil by the gala.
UMEC was formed in 1997 as a response to a series of incidents that occurred on campus that highlighted a need for historically underrepresented students to gain support. Raymond F. Reyes, the associate vice president for Cultural Initiatives who has been with GU since 1987, shared how UMEC originally started in a house on Rosauer, until it was moved into the Hemmingson Center when it was built in 2015. It was not only a place to socialize but housed offices for other programs on campus as well as external community partners.
“It was never any one person that has been involved in the origin, beginnings, establishments of any effort related to inclusion and equity,” Reyes said. ”It's always been a group effort, and a collaborative effort between students, faculty and staff. It was a response to an unmet need, whether it was programming support, or how to strategize when microaggressions from implicit bias occurred.”
When comparing GU’s climate on campus to 25 years ago, Reyes pointed out progress in the diversity of the undergraduate student body. When he had started, the percentage of students of color was most likely around 6-7%. As of this year, according to Joan Iva C. Fawcett, dean for social justice leadership & community empowerment, it is now over 30%.
Many programs have been established since as well, such as the expansion of culture clubs, BRIDGE, a pre-orientation program for students who identify as first generation, low income, students of color and/or LGBTQ+ and Act Six, Spokane’s only full-tuition, full-need scholarship.
“We organize our work around three pillars, mentoring, social justice programming and intercultural
development,” Fawcett said. “The mentoring is programs like BRIDGE and Act Six, and social justice programming is the speakers, films, art and activism workshops. Intercultural development is that deeper dive into training and development, such as social justice peer educators, a joint position between us and Housing and Residence Life. And our Intergroup Dialogue, which is offered as a first year seminar, a core integration seminar or a one credit elective.”
Jessie Mancilla, the UMEC director, mentioned some work being done at UMEC this year, such as building co-curricular programming and connecting with different programs from different departments.
“I would like to highlight working with the Career & Professional Development department in itself,” Mancilla said. “We're trying to navigate and provide more resources for the population that utilizes the space. At the moment, we have three different sessions this semester. The first is Sept. 19, and then the next one is on Oct. 10. We already have some employers wanting to engage with students.”
The center’s impact and importance to GU is not lost on the students, faculty and staff involved. Anisia Khammala, a senior student and member of the UMEC 25th Anniversary Committee, said the center was the first place on campus where she was able to make friends and find a community.
“UMEC is a special place,” Khammala said. “UMEC has taught myself and students like me to take up space. UMEC wholeheartedly supports our efforts as student activists on campus. It is a comfort, a community, a celebration and home away from home.”
Those involved in the center have goals they want to see progress in the near future. Fawcett mentioned being able to expand their programming, such as raising the cap on how many students can be in BRIDGE. Khammala brought up the importance of diversifying faculty and staff as well as the student population.
“As a student of color, I would love to see more representation in staff, faculty and administration,” Khammala said. “I see the push to admit more students of color, but I would love to learn from faculty of color, be supported by staff of color and see more people of color in high administrative roles.”
Amanecer has a particular vision for how he sees the center progressing beyond its physical space.
“The goal is to have DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) work in every department on campus,” Amanecer said. “To have a specialized individual or a couple of individuals within each department and still have this space for students. But not only relying on us to do the training or workshops, it would be already embedded in Gonzaga’s curriculum, mission and departments.”
Those interested in attending the block party can register at https://gonzaga.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_eXyLJvoUaLKlEfs and Mancilla encourages anyone curious about the center to stop by at any time.